Despite Hurdles, Smart Meters Still Ramping Up Fast

Despite some setbacks, the U.S. smart meter push is continuing at a stimulus-fueled pace. Pike Research reported Monday that more than 90 U.S. utilities have 57.9 million smart meters planned and on the way.

That’s 7.9 million more than the combined 16 million meters installed and 34 million meters under contract that eMeter’s Chris King counted up in a blog post last month. It seems like the checks from the DOE’s stimulus program are finally reaching utilities.

The $3.4 billion in smart grid investment grants were expected to pay for about 18 million smart meters over the next three years, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the DOE grants were responsible for about 2 million installed meters as of September.

The Pike figure suggests the consumer backlash that has cropped up in certain areas over smart meters — California and Texas power customers have sued over alleged overcharging by their smart meters — isn’t making much of a dent in utility deployments. Regulators in Maryland, Hawaii, Michigan, Indiana and Colorado have asked utilities to shoulder more of the costs of deployment and put less burden on customers’ rates, but haven’t largely put utility installation plans on hold.

While the consumer smart meter backlash probably won’t be going away any time soon, the smart grid industry will be heartened to learn that meter ramp-up stats are on track and higher than expected.

As for the global smart meter picture, Pike predicts a $3.9 billion industry by 2015, with 250 million meters installed. Canada has tens of millions of meters being deployed, Europe has many tens of millions more due by the end of the decade under government mandates (pdf), and Asia — particularly China — is playing an increasingly important role.

Five big companies — Elster (s ELT), Landis+Gyr, Itron (s ITRI), Sensus and General Electric (s GE) — dominate the smart meter market in North America and Europe, though Echelon (s ELON)  and others are making inr0ads into the business. But smart meter communications and networking are increasingly being handled by startups like Silver Spring Networks, Trilliant and SmartSynch, and back-end management, billing and customer support functions are being tackled by startups including eMeter and Ecologic Analytics.

While smart meters have gotten the lion’s share of attention in the smart grid space, most analysts agree they’ll be out-spent by the part of the smart grid that controls the grid itself, such as intelligent outage management switches and substation automation networks. So-called distribution grid management took in $1.5 billion in the U.S. this year, compared to $1.1 billion spent on installing smart meters, the Cleantech Group reports.

For more research on the smart grid check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Image courtesy of Duke Energy via Creative Commons license.